Back to the bush: NRL set to bring up to five games to regional areas

MUDGEE MATCH: Then-Parramatta player Jarryd Hayne when the Eels brought their match against the Gold Coast to Glen Willow in 2013.
MUDGEE MATCH: Then-Parramatta player Jarryd Hayne when the Eels brought their match against the Gold Coast to Glen Willow in 2013.

Country Rugby League (CRL) supremo Terry Quinn is absolutely stoked after it was revealed on Monday morning the NRL is set to take as many as five premiership matches to regional areas in 2018.

The scrapping of the City-Country representative fixture from 2018 onwards was a blow for supporters outside metropolitan areas and major regional cities but calls for League Central not to turn their backs on the bush are poised to be answered.

NRL officials are busy compiling the draw for next season and it can be revealed that the fixture list will include four or five first-grade games staged in the country. 

There are two already locked away – one in Bathurst as part of Penrith's 10-year agreement to play an NRL match a year there, and another in Tamworth. They’ll be in addition to the Sydney Roosters' deal to play one game a season at Central Coast Stadium in Gosford until 2019 as well.

While the other regional venues are yet to be confirmed the likes of Mudgee, Wagga Wagga and Coffs Harbour, which all hosted City-Country games in its final years, are expected to be contenders.

While Orange has hosted City-Country and an NRL trial game, the colour city’s not expected to be a serious contender without a purpose-built, rectangular complex.

While NRL crowd figures are down this season fans in regional areas are crying out for a glimpse of elite football, according to Country Rugby League chief Terry Quinn, who said four or five games premiership games a season would more than compensate them for the loss of City-Country.

END OF AN ERA: The final City-Country match was played in Mudgee in 2017. Photo: Simone Kurtz.

END OF AN ERA: The final City-Country match was played in Mudgee in 2017. Photo: Simone Kurtz.

"I was talking to (NRL chief executive) Todd (Greenberg) when the fixture went and was told that they'd compensate us by playing more games in the country areas," Quinn said. 

“If we got three I'd be very happy. If we got five I'd be over the moon.”

The City-Country fixture had become somewhat farcical in its final years, something not lost on Quinn, which is why he is welcoming the NRL's renewed commitment to the bush.

“This would more than compensate us for City-Country,” he said.

"Particularly having competition games out there with the best players turning out. 

“I'm sure they'd love to have a player like a Johnathan Thurston or a Latrell Mitchell out to the towns. It would be unbelievable"

It may just be the beginning too, the NSW government on Monday unveiling a $100 million regional sports infrastructure fund aimed at increasing the number of top-class facilities in the country. 

Among the priorities of the fund is the upgrading of facilities with a maximum capacity of 10,000 to 20,000 people that are capable of hosting major events under the state government's stadia strategy.

"As more regional grounds and arenas are upgraded it makes it easier for us to take more games to the bush," an NRL spokesman said on Sunday.